I was mooching around a bookshop yesterday when I spied a volume on one of the shelves titled Have I Got Views For You, which, on closer inspection, revealed itself to be a collection of Boris Johnson’s journalistic writing. On its front cover, Boris is pictured with his midriff got up in the garb of Napoleon, his face a regular journalist’s mug shot, and his lower half a sketch of a Georgian-era gent with big buckled shoes and high breeches.
All rather on the nose I thought – who is the real Boris? Eh? A journo, trainee World King or dilettante English gent?
Boris can write about almost anything fairly convincingly. He can turn a phrase and has decent comic timing – but he’s a poor man’s Auberon Waugh, long-time columnist at The Telegraph and contributor to the Spectator. His reactionary bent was more pronounced, his grudges more powerfully felt, his distaste for regional folk (particularly Liverpudlians) nastier, and he was a better writer than Boris, with his (few) novels real literature rather than airport pulp.
Auberon Waugh reserved a near pathological hated for politicians. For him, only a freak would want to sit on the green benches – politics was all baying and mewling and egomania, the drives that lead men and women to seek office overwhelmingly base.
I wonder what he would have made of Boris…
Waugh saw journalism as a “here today, gone tomorrow” game – a brilliant column might illuminate, divert, amuse even, but it’s soon forgotten, just so much debris. The selection of pieces in Have I Got Views For You reflects a journalist fully engaged in that endeavour – lots of Big Opinions, peripatetic mental rhythms and silly, basically unserious takes on current affairs.
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Boris (did he get tired of journalism?) is now set on a quite different project – to imprint his name into History, in effect to write a story that really lasts. Quite a story it could prove to be – and if he gets it wrong, and this would be a beautiful idea in a less important context, there will be no more friction between Boris’s story and the persona that has brought him so much fame and material success, the journalist who relished the cut and thrust of a polemic on the burning issue of the day – he will be “here today, gone tomorrow”.